1st November 2004

Species Spotlight - Turnstone.

Point of Ayr Wardens.
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October Bird News.
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Chris Butterworth

Species Spotlight - the Turnstone

There is no more enigmatic species of wader than the Turnstone (Arenaria interpres). It is very aptly named - after its habit of turning stones to look for invertebrates, which live under and between rocks on the coastlines of Britain. It is an extremely attractive species of wader with short bright orange legs ideal for scrabbling around on seaweed covered rocks, short stubby bill - perfectly suited for turning stones, and brightly marked upperparts giving the Turnstone its new name - 'Ruddy Turnstone'. In summer its black mask stands out more and it is a very beautiful bird indeed (see sketch above).

Turnstones winter on and around Hilbre, which along with Middle Eye (Little Hilbre), is ideally suited to the Turnstone's needs with plenty of rocky shoreline for feeding. To say that Turnstones only winter on Hilbre is actually incorrect. They leave Hilbre in April/early May heading northwards to their breeding grounds in Greenland and Arctic Canada and adults begin to return in July (3 of our colour-ringed birds from previous years were spotted on 11th August this year - 2003), with young birds following on. So they only spend about 2 months of the year away from Hilbre. Some years the only month of the year you don't see Turnstones around Hilbre is June.

Turnstones and Dunlin roosting at high tide on Hilbre Island, © Laura Bimson
Between August and April they can be found all around Hilbre and Middle Eye, but the favoured localities are along the East Side of either island and at the North End of Hilbre. On Hilbre the Bird Observatory has been ringing Turnstones around the island since 1957. This is done in the hope that they are either seen elsewhere, if the bird has been fitted with a colour ring sequence, or recaptured elsewhere, if the bird has been fitted with a BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) ring, then it can be specifically identified if captured again or, unfortunately, found dead. The reason we believe that Hilbre's Turnstones are from Greenland and/or Arctic Canada is that we have caught a bird that had been ringed in Iceland and we have also had a recovery of one of our birds also in Iceland. The first was ringed at Midnes in south-west Iceland on 26th May 1957 and was trapped on Hilbre on 6th December the same year. The second was ringed on Hilbre on 30th August 1964 and was recaptured at Snaefellsnes, Iceland, on 18th May 1972 presumably on its way to its breeding grounds. Turnstones do not breed in Iceland, but pass through on their way north or south from their breeding grounds in Greenland and Canada (see map below).

Furthermore, one of our colour-ringed birds was spotted at Seaforth Nature Reserve - not that far you might think! But it was accompanying another colour-ringed bird that had been ringed in Canada! Hilbre Bird Observatory also had the first foreign recovery of a British Ringed Purple Sandpiper in Greenland way back in 1964; perhaps another indication of breeding areas of some of our wintering rocky coastline waders.

Turnstones also breed in Feno-Scandanavia and East to Russia, but it is has been found through ringing that those birds winter in North and West Africa, some of these birds however, pass down the East Coast of Britain (as you might expect), but some have been recorded on the West Coast as well.
The best places to look for Turnstones in the Dee Estuary are at Hilbre itself, but also around the Marine Lake at West Kirby and any rocky outcrop along the North Wirral Coast - such as Dove Point (Meols) or Fort Perch Rock (New Brighton).

Winter plumage turnstone on Hilbre Island
© Sue Tranter 

The graph below shows the daily counts of Turnstones made by Hilbre Bird Observatory during 2001. The figures are clearly affected by high tides, in other words when there is a large tide Turnstones congregate on Hilbre, which also makes them easier to count, as they tend to roost over the tide in one place. The histogram clearly shows the month of June being the only true quiet month.

At Hilbre Bird Observatory and Ringing Station, we look forward to our next recovery of a Hilbre ringed Turnstone; perhaps it will be from Canada.

Please report your sightings of any colour-ringed waders at Hilbre to the Bird Observatory or via email.

Steve Williams - Hilbre Bird Observatory.

This article was first published on the Hilbre Bird Observatory website and reproduced here with kind permission of the author - Steve has also written several other 'species spotlights' on key Hilbre birds which can be seen on the HiBO website..

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Point of Ayr Voluntary Wardening Scheme
Point of Ayr, on the North Wales coast, is a great place to watch a variety of birds as they come in to roost at high tide, but unfortunately the site is extremely vulnerable to human disturbance. The RSPB is looking for extra volunteers to help warden this invaluable roost site, and protect the birds throughout the cold winter months.

Shifts are run most weekends and typically last between 3-4 hours, depending on the height of the tide.

If you would like to help in any way please contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681. Not only are you helping to save the planet, but itís also great birdwatching too!

Richard Hurst (RSPB)

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Bird Counts
Count from Heswall Shore - (Kindly provided by the Wirral Ranger Service), 17th October.
10 Great Crested Grebe, 160 Cormorant, 3 Little Egret, 3 Grey Heron,11,783 Shelduck, 2 Wigeon, 116 Teal, 64 Mallard, 26 Red-breasted Merganser, 2,900 Oystercatcher, 65 Golden Plover, 221 Lapwing, 5,000 Knot (200 at high tide), 3,000 Dunlin (100 at high tide), 108 Black-tailed Godwit, 4 Bar-tailed Godwit, 3,500 Curlew, 1,800 Redshank and 1 Greenshank. 54 Black-headed Gull, 116 Common Gull, 28 Lesser Black-backed Gull, 28 Herring Gull and 4 Great Black-backed Gull. 3 Peregrine and 2.

Count from Connah's Quay and Flint - (Kindly provided by Deeside Naturalists' Society)
17th October. 1 Great Crested Grebe, 176 Cormorant, 2 Little Egret, 1 Grey Heron, 2 Mute Swan, 46 Canada Goose, 64 Shelduck, 887 Teal, 193 Mallard, 3 Tufted duck, 1 Moorhen, 17 Coot, 4,000 Oystercatcher, 76 Lapwing, 2,000 Knot, 680 Dunlin, 2,735 Black-tailed Godwit, 48 Curlew, 1 Whimbrel, 4 Spotted Redshank, 302 Redshank and 1 Greenshank.

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October Bird News
The highlight for me was the record numbers of Shelduck on the estuary with almost 12,000 off Heswall alone. Looking from the top of Thurstaston cliffs at low tide they just seemed to stretch for miles over the mud banks. Another record was the 65 Little Egrets coming to roost at Burton, compared with 34 last year (see 'Record Numbers of Little Egrets in the North West' published on the Birding North West website).

In last month's newsletter I told you about the huge count of Black-tailed Godwits off Connah's Quay, apparently the total count for the whole estuary was over 6,000, with these numbers the Dee Estuary may well be now the most important site for this species in the country. Don't forget to record and report any colour ringed Black-tailed Godwits - see last January's newsletter for details. Good numbers of other waders were coming in during the month with the highlights being 7,000 Knot off Thurstaston, 4,750 Dunlin on West Kirby Shore and over 1,000 Sanderling at Hoylake.

Four of the thousands of Dunlin at West Kirby during the month - © Richard Smith

Like last year there was a small passage of Whooper Swan through the estuary with five seen from West Kirby and eight at Point of Ayr being the highest numbers. These birds, which breed in Iceland, will most likely be on their way to either Martin Mere (Lancs) or the Ouse Washes. Other wildfowl of interest were two Goosanders on the river by Connah's Quay, one Green-winged Teal at Inner Marsh Farm and three Brent Geese on Hilbre.

Two or three Yellow-browed Warblers were either seen or heard during the month but remained elusive to most birders. Slightly more conspicuous were the Redwings which came through in their hundreds, 1,400 at Hoylake being the highest count. Two Shorelarks was an excellent record for Gronant, in 1999 we had 21 here so perhaps we are in for another good winter for this species. A good record for Hilbre was a 2nd winter Ring-billed Gull which flew past on the 21st.

What to expect in November.

Wader numbers will reach their usual winter numbers. Dunlin in particular usually reach a maximum in November with up to 30,000 present, may be as many as 50,000 in a good year. Black-tailed Godwits have been here in large numbers since September but expect about 2,000 to 3,000 to start coming over to the English side of the estuary. So as well as Flint and Connah's Quay they will be seen at low tide anywhere between the south end of West Kirby Marine Lake and Heswall Marsh. Depending on the height of the tide the 'Blackwits' roost either at Heswall, Parkgate or Oakenholt.

Last winter was particularly good  for both Short-eared Owls and Hen Harriers. Both species can be seen flying over the marsh off Burton, Parkgate and Heswall, although some years Short-eared Owls are more widespread being seen also at Gronant and by Leasowe Lighthouse.

On Hilbre Island Brent Geese numbers should start to build up, expect to see 20 or so. For the last three years we have had a few Scaup on the Marine Lake at West Kirby during November, mixing with the more usual Red-breasted Mergansers and Goldeneye.

Although we have had a couple of very high tides this year neither of them coincided with a Parkgate High Tide Birdwatch, surely our luck is due to change on the 13th! Just to show we do sometimes have very good days this is what I wrote about November 2002;- "We had two excellent Parkgate high tide birdwatches at the beginning of the month with some superb bird watching. 3,000 Teal, 6,000 Wigeon, 4+ Short-eared Owls on the first day, then the big surprise on the second day - a Spotted Crake which swam right up to the car park wall and parked itself on a clump of grass for the duration of the high tide, under the gaze of the assembled throng of birders". But if there isn't a strong westerly wind and low atmospheric pressure - it really is much better at Heswall, Riverbank Road (note -  Riverbank Road, not Banks Road!). You are not only much nearer the birds there but as the car park is elevated you get a much better view over the marsh and in to Heswall Gutter. Incidentally a good days birdwatching would be to go to Heswall, Banks Road (by Sheldrake Restaurant), at least three hours before high tide to see the birds being pushed off the mud banks by the  incoming tide. Move on to Riverbank road car park as the tide starts to cover the marsh, then move on to Parkgate if it looks like the tide is high enough to completely cover the marsh. 

Many thanks go to Steve Round, Laura Bemson, Ray Roberts, John Campbell,  Bernard Machin, David Harrington, Steve Williams,  Chris Butterworth,  Martyn Jaimeson, John Roberts, Mark O'Sullivan, David Haigh, Phil Woollen, David Wilde,  Allan Conlin, Colin Schofield, Steve Ainsworth,  Sabena Blackbird, Michael Cocking,  Clive Ashton, David Banbury, Chris Knox, John Kirkland, Mike Hart, John Campbell, David Esther, Jill Lawrence, Kevin Smith, Ian Whittle, Cath McGrath, Geoff Hall, Liz and Don Shand, Rosemary Hannay, David and Emma Kenyon, Matt Thomas, Mark Smith, Steve Renshaw, John Boswell, Steve Wrigley, Allan Hewitt, 'Steve', Iain Douglas, Jane Turner, the Dee Estuary Voluntary Wardens  and the Hilbre Bird Observatory for their sightings during October. All sightings are gratefully received.

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Forthcoming Events
November Highest Spring Tides, also see Tides page.
13th November, 11:23hrs 9.7m. Times GMT.
14th November, 12:04hrs 9.7m. 

Forthcoming Events (organised by the Wirral Ranger Service, Flintshire Countryside Service and/or the RSPB):
All these events and walks have bird interest, even those not advertised specifically for birdwatching. No need to book for these events unless specified - please check below.

Saturday 13th November, 10:00am, Parkgate High Tide Birdwatch Special.
The saltmarsh off Parkgate comes alive with birds as they are pushed in towards us by the incoming tide. If the tide hits the wall, small mammals such as voles and shrews are flushed out. Meet at the Old Baths car park, which overlooks the Gayton Sands Nature Reserve at Parkgate, close to The Boathouse pub (HW 11:23, 9.7m).

The high tide birdwatch will be followed by an illustrated talk at the Boathouse celebrating the RSPB's 25 years on the Dee Estuary. Tickets for the event will cost £6.95, and will include a hot meal. To book, phone the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Saturday 13th November, 10:00am to 2:00pm, Open Day at Connah's Quay Reserve (Deeside Naturalists' Society).
A great chance to see this reserve overlooking the mouth of the River Dee as it enters the estuary, normally open to members only. The main hide overlooks the RSPB Oakenholt Reserve where large numbers of waders can be expected to roost at high tide (HW 11:23). Three other hides look over various habitats included marsh and scrapes. Tea and coffee can be had at the visitors' centre where there are full details of the reserve and it's birds.  

Sunday 14th November, 8:00am - 10:30am, Seaduck Close-up.
During the winter months the Marine Lake at West Kirby is a good place to spot seaducks including goldeneye, scaup and red-breasted merganser. Join the Rangers on a stroll around the lake to get views of these birds without having to venture out onto the waves! Then head up to Cubbins Green to view the waders feeding on the rich estuary mudflats. No need to book, meet at the Dee Lane Slipway, West Kirby. Please bring warm waterproof clothes and binoculars. For further information call Wirral Country Park on 0151 648 4371/3884.

Wednesday 17th November, 11:00am, Gilroy Pool Birdwatch.
A birdwatching walk around Hoylake with the Liverpool RSPB group. Meet at Hoylake Station. For more details, contact Chris Tynan on 0151 480 7938.

Sunday 21st November, 2:30pm, Parkgate Raptor Watch.
Come along and watch birds of prey with the experts. See the graceful hen harriers coming into roost on the RSPB reserve. Other birds of prey we hope to see are merlin, peregrine, sparrowhawk, short-eared owl and barn owl. Meet at the Old Baths car park, which overlooks the Gayton Sands Nature Reserve at Parkgate, close to The Boathouse pub. For further details contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Saturday 27th November, 8:30am, Banks Road Birdwatch on Heswall Shore.
Wader watching doesn't get much better than this as thousands of birds are pushed up the Heswall Gutter in front of us by the incoming tide. Black-tailed godwit, dunlin, redshank, and curlew will all be present in spectacular numbers (HW 11:21, 9.0m). Meet at Banks Road car park, near Sheldrake's Restaurant, Lower Heswall. For further information tel. 0151 648 4371.

Sunday 28th November, 9:30am, Flint High Tide Birdwatch.
Join the RSPB Warden for great views across the RSPB reserve at Oakenholt. Marvel at the spectacular aerial display of the masses of waders that are disturbed from their roosting site on the saltmarsh by the rising tide. Expect to see black-tailed godwit, knot, dunlin and twite. Please bring Wellingtons (HW 11:54, 9.0m). No need to book. Meet at Flint Lifeboat Station car park. For further information, contact the RSPB on 0151 336 7681.

Note: Many of these forthcoming events are extracted from the 'Birdwatchers Diary 2004', which covers both the Dee and Mersey regions. Hard copies available from the visitor centre at Thurstaston, Wirral Country Park 0151 648 4371.

All material in this newsletter, and indeed the whole web site, has been written by myself, Richard Smith, unless specified.

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